An Angel on the Bayouside

It was a decade ago, when Julie and Dean Falgout were looking to sell their big shrimp boat, the Harvester, and things were looking so bad for shrimpers here and elsewhere on the Gulf Coast.

Dean did what he does best, which was to keep working on the water, while Julie got involved in the mess that developed as shrimpers turned against shrimpers, when the Louisiana Shrimp Association and the Southern Shrimp Alliance were locked in a battle of wills and philosophy, as struggling fishermen looked toward the future and saw little but clouds in the crystal ball.

As always when there is money involved, a lot of bitter words get spoken. In retrospect, the LSA and the SSA both had the best interests of the shrimp industry at heart, and each organization – now much closer than in the past – has demonstrated that time and again.

But there is still Julie, a statuesque former dancer, who speaks and writes well and so has for the longest time been the perfect translator for men and women who don’t always get to spend the time needed to do such a good job with that themselves.

After they sold the Harvester the couple moved to Arkansas for a while. Julie sold real estate and did a few other things to help them get along. But in the end Louisiana called them back, and even without a boat Julie found herself right smack back in the vicinity of shrimpers and did what she could to help.

That mean a job with LSU SeaGrant and for years now Julie has been working hard, helping the message from shrimpers get to the public, even working on getting their catches tweeted and Facebooked, so that people know when they can buy good fresh Louisiana shrimp and who they should get in touch with.

The SeaGrant people, who are part of NOAA but also part of the local universities in fishing communities, rarely get enough credit for what they do. But it makes a difference.

Back when BP’s oil was fouling the coast, it was Julie and other SeaGrant people who tried explaining to BP how they needed to address local fishermen, and what their needs were.

For so many years as this work has been done Julie and the others don’t always get to see how much good it accomplishes.

But there are signs.

In Terrebonne Parish there are now more boat blessings than there were in recent years, and Julie got to witness a few of them.

“It says people are taking pride in what they do,” Julie said. “The people who do this are the heart of the industry, and they are taking pride in their heritage, their livelihood.”

At the Sculpture Garden in Chauvin, where the blessing on Bayou Little Caillou starts these days, Julie caught the interest that was expressed by people who don’t live near shrimp boats, but came to the event. Years ago, she said, it was strictly people on the bayous who took part. Now the Chauvin blessing is part of a bigger event.

A lot of the fishermen who were getting blessed know who Julie is. They shrimped in waters beside her family’s boats. A lot of them might not know her by name.

But when you look at the work SeaGrant has done there is little to contradict the belief that the fishermen in Terrebonne have indeed been blessed with an angel of their marketplace, who has displayed time and again an interest solely based on a desire for them to do well.

“I do it because I love the people,” she said, when asked why she continues. “I have a heart for the people in this industry. They will succeed. Because the majority of people in our fishing communities are people of integrity. Because this is about more than dollars. It is about their heritage and that is why they will succeed.”